Jesuit archbishop describes the Society of Jesus' traditions
Canadian Catholic News
As the first Jesuit Pope, Pope Francis’ Ignatian spirituality can help him discern God’s will and reveal the Gospel in a new way, says fellow Jesuit Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, in Ottawa.
“He, in a way, embodies the best of what our tradition is about,” he said.
The spiritual disciplines of the Society of Jesus’ founder St. Ignatius of Loyola helps one determine “what God is calling me to do in this particular circumstance at this particular time,” said Archbishop Prendergast.
“As a Society, we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us in a way that is unique to each one of us,” he said. Though Ignatius might not have used the same terms, the archbishop said, “the way God speaks to me is unique to me, as distinct as my fingerprints, my DNA, and the iris of my eyes.”
When Pope Francis was Jesuit provincial in Argentina during the 1970s, he insisted on Ignatian spirituality as opposed to the popular Liberation Theology that sees the Gospel through a Marxist lens. Jesuits have been on the forefront of Liberation Theology in South America.
Prendergast said it is natural for Jesuits to be concerned about the plight of the poor. “Social inequalities had to be addressed” in South America, and “Jesuits went there to use their intellect and their passion for the poor to bring that passion together with the Gospel.”
He pointed out how Pope John Paul II referred to America as one continent including both North and South, “a way of saying the rich North must be responsible for the needs of the poorer South.” But at the same time, both John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were critical of Liberation Theology, he noted.
“Some can emphasize social justice to the point that they lose their faith,” said Archbishop Prendergast. Others can stress the faith so much they do nothing for the poor, he added.
The approach then Father Jorge Bergoglio would have taken is “to always keep the love of the poor coupled with the Gospel,” and not go to Marxism, “which sets up class warfare,” and “division, not what the Gospel calls for.”
“He insisted everything must be aligned with what the Gospel says,” Archbishop Prendergast said. Jesuits were interested in how far they could go if they were really concerned about the poor.
During the 1970s, Argentina was in the midst of its so-called “dirty war” in which a repressive military regime cracked down on leftists, including many priests who were working with the poor. There have been accusations Father Bergoglio did not do enough to speak out against the regime, or worse, that he may have betrayed some of his priests. Archbishop Prendergast said as Jesuit provincial Father Bergoglio “there may have been some conflict on where people would work in the social justice arena.”
This would have involved a rethinking of the Jesuit charism to prevent the promotion of social justice to the extreme or the promotion of faith to the extreme, he said. “He insisted Marxism was not compatible with the service of faith. Faith and justice go together.”
“He was probably caught at that particular time,” he said. “He probably really tried to listen to them.”
The archbishop admitted Jesuits often come up for criticism. Pope Clement XIV even suppressed the Society from 1773 to 1814, prompting one cardinal to joke to Pope Francis he should take the name Clement XV to get revenge.
When Cardinal Bergoglio stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Archbishop Prendergast was in Toronto with a group of young Jesuits. He was “surprised,” and “stunned.”
“That the cardinals would have chosen one of us—we were speechless,” he said.
“Jesuits are called to be on the cutting edge between faith and unbelief,” Archbishop Prendergast said, noting the role Jesuits have played in science, in running universities, in running the Vatican Observatory and so on. “When you are on the cutting edge, some people think you go too far and others think you don’t go far enough.”
The archbishop sees Pope Francis as neither a conservative nor a progressive. All bishops must be conservative in the sense that they preserve the Gospel, but while preserving the teaching they must find innovative ways to “present it in a way that meets the needs of the people today.
One way the new Pope showed a spirit of innovation as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires was in how he invited poor families to baptize their children. Cardinal Bergoglio noticed many families were not bringing their babies in to be baptized because they could not afford to throw a big party as Argentinian society expected, Archbishop Prendergast said. So, Bergoglio had the church throw the party so the baptisms could take place and the families would experience no shame.
Every person chosen to be Pope “will be conservative and innovative,” he said.
Among the disciplines of Ignatian spirituality is to do an examination of conscience twice a day, to get a sense of one’s faults and failures and to “acknowledge where the Lord has been present, where I have acknowledged Him and where I have failed to see Him,” Archbishop Prendergast said.
There are particular examinations when one is trying to correct a fault or work on developing a virtue. “Somebody who is proud might do humble things; someone who is a doormat might work on becoming assertive,” he said.
The goal of the disciplines is “to find equilibrium and balance,” Archbishop Prendergast said. “When I am in balance, I can see the movement of spirit and discern whether it is from God or from the enemy of our nature, what Ignatius would call the devil.”
“Ignatius himself would try to find God in all things, to find God in the present moment and respond,” he said.
Some of the gestures of humility—like Pope Francis’ decision to wear the simple white cassock without the ermine-lined red cape, paying his own hotel bill, and the simple pectoral cross he wore as a bishop and not the pontifical cross offered him may be signs of the different way he hears God’s message and how he wants to proclaim it, Archbishop Prendergast said. “How successful he will be will depend on his stamina and his stick-to-itiveness.”
His riding on the subways in Buenos Aires and living in a simple apartment may also have been decisions made at a certain stage out of his Jesuit spirituality, he said.
One makes decisions and continues to live out of them or one might examine them later one and ask “has my living arrangement helped me to grow,” Archbishop Prendergast said.
While Pope Francis’ humility has been a focus of media attention, some reports have also drawn attention to what has been described as his strict demand for obedience as Jesuit provincial.
Archbishop Prendergast explained how the Jesuit vow of obedience can be misunderstood. “What I understand about (Pope Francis) is that he’s a listener. That’s what a provincial is called to do,” he said.
The obedience called for is not a “blind obedience” but an interplay of discernment between the superior and the priests, he said. “It’s only at the end of the process where I person says, ‘I don’t want to do that;' and the provincial says, ‘Well, that’s what I think God wants you to do,'” that “Jesuit obedience” means “in the end, I do what I’m told.”
But the process can take a long time, he said. A provincial needs to listen well to know the thoughts, desires, faults, illnesses, and gifts of those under him to “assign them to the best use of their talents for the Kingdom of God and society,” Archbishop Prendergast said. A provincial might make a proposal to a priest and find the reaction is, “Oh, no, that would kill me!”
“You place yourself in the position of trusting your superior, but he needs to hear you,” said Archbishop Prendergast.
So far he has not heard his fellow Jesuits react negatively to the appointment of Pope Francis.
Though the Jesuits are called the Society of Jesus in English, he likes the French and Spanish terms that mean Company or Companions of Jesus, the “band of brothers, the people who share bread together, who share their life together and come out from a common base to serve the world.”